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NASA Explores Semantic Search

Technology from Google and Smartlogic allows semantic searches on 50 years of data on the agency's space-flight program.

Inside NASA's Max Launch Abort System (MLAS) Test Launch
(click for image gallery)

As part of its open government plan, NASA is venturing into the semantic search realm with an internal solution that enables employees to search more than 50 years of information related to its manned space-flight program.

The solution runs on a Google Search appliance, a piece of hardware the search giant offers that organizations can customize to comprehensively search their intranets or Web sites.

In NASA's case, the appliance has been outfitted with software called Semaphore from U.K.-based vendor Smartlogic, which works with search engines to retrieve data semantically. The software works with an organization's existing data classification methods to organize information, automatically tagging new content with the current classification scheme.

Using Smartlogic's Semaphore will allow NASA to organize documentation on its manned space program according to current data classification standards already being used across the agency, according to Smartlogic. That information then can be searched according to the meaning of words and sentences to provide the most accurate results, the company said.

Using semantic search to query NASA historical data is one of several projects coming out of newly appointed NASA CTO Chris Kemp's office.

Formerly CIO of NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, Calif., Kemp became the first NASA CTO for IT on Tuesday, a role created to implement NASA's open government plan. He's made semantic search one of the areas he'd like to explore as part of that plan.

Semantic search creates a semantic representation of data and parses each sentence to extract its meaning. It is thought to be more powerful than any search method to date because it can actually search information via the meaning of words and sentences.

Semantic search as a concept has been around for several years, but the technology itself is still in its nascent stages. Just last year Google rolled out its first semantic search capabilities for its Web search engine. Microsoft, too, has been building semantic search capability into its Bing search engine through technology it acquired with startup Powerset in 2008.

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